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Federal courts face more staff cuts, Roberts warns

Jan. 2, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
New U.S. Supreme Court Poses For Class Photo
In his year-end report on the federal judiciary, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said, 'The budget remains the single most important issue facing the courts.' (Getty Images)

Flat budgets followed by sequester-related cuts have driven the size of the front-line federal court workforce to its lowest level in 16 years, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said in a year-end message warning of more staff reductions if Congress fails to boost funding this year.

“The budget remains the single most important issue facing the courts,” Roberts said in his customary annual report on the federal judiciary released this week. “It takes no imagination to see that failing to meet the judiciary’s essential requirements undermines the public’s confidence in all three branches of government.”

Last year’s sequester sliced some $350 million from the courts’ budget. Coupled with flat funding since 2011, Roberts wrote, the result has been a 14 percent reduction in staffing from about 22,100 to 19,000 workers.

That is the smallest headcount since 1997, despite significant workload increases in the interim, he added. (Roberts’ total includes employees in clerks’ offices as well as probation and pretrial services, but not “chambers staff” who work directly for judges, along with employees at the Supreme Court and other parts of the judiciary’s workforce of about 32,000, a spokesman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts said Thursday.)

As part of the budget deal signed last month, lawmakers partially rolled back new rounds of sequester-relating spending cuts scheduled for this year and next, but the final agency allocations will hinge on the House and Senate appropriations committees, which are crafting a full-year spending bill to replace the continuing resolution that expires Jan. 15.

The judiciary is seeking a total of about $7 billion, Roberts said, or $180 million less than its original fiscal 2014 budget request. Freezing funding at the current CR level would lead to the loss of estimated 1,000 more court staff because of inflation-driven increases in “must-pay” areas, he said.

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